le plus loin le plus serré

le plus loin le plus serré
mourning art

in memoriam

"yet I tell you, from the sad knowledge of my older experience, that to every one of you a day will most likely come when sunshine, hope, presents and pleasure will be worth nothing to you in comparison with the unattainable gift of your mother's kiss." (Christina Rossetti, "Speaking Likenesses," 1873)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Dirty *Dirty Cowboy*: censorship idiocy, again

From the Rogue Librarian's blog, this post about the recent decision to remove The Dirty Cowboy from a school's library.  The cowboy in question, a boy, asks his dog to guard his clothing while the boy (who is covered in mud) bathes in the river. The illustrations are careful to use various objects to completely obscure the boy's genitalia; as the Rogue Librarian writes, "readers do not see so much as a butt crack."

But one student's parents complained, and the school board of Annville-Cleona voted unanimously (unanimously!!) to yank the book from two elementary school libraries.  School Superintendent Steven Houser offers this explanation:
[the parents] were asked what do you feel might be the result of viewing or reading this material, and their answer was, ‘Children may come to the conclusion that looking at nudity is OK, and therefore pornography is OK,’

Because of course, nudity = pornography. Of course. Never mind that there's no actual nudity going on here, because the book is illustrated in paintings (so there are no real human bodies); even if you don't buy my logic on that, there is still the fact that all cowboy "private parts" are fully covered.

Once again, proof of James Kincaid's brilliant thesis from Erotic Innocence and Anne Higonnet's equally brilliant thesis in Pictures of Innocence.  We have been acculturated to see even the drawn partially-naked body of a child as sexual; thus we get parents overreacting, and ultimately, a school board caving completely to the will of two people.

The Rogue Librarian quotes from a (quite positive) Booklist review that references Norman Rockwell; my sense (and I have a very vague recollection of flipping through The Dirty Cowboy, probably while working at the bookstore) is that we never see much more of the cowboy than we see in Rockwell's "No Trespassing."
Hardly a spectacle of pornography.

The politics and processes of sexualized child bodies aside, it's the tyranny of the minority in these cases that really gets me. It's just not logical, at all, to allow the parents of one student to have that much influence. It also makes me wonder if the contrary occurred, if the parents of one student came to the board and demanded inclusion in a library of, say, queer books, would the board as uninamously cave in to those demands?

Banning books is never, ever, ever okay. Banning picture books under the "logic" that children might perceive naked drawings as pornographic is actually kind of grotesque. I don't doubt the child's ability to have sexual reactions to things, but I also don't know if that's the controlling reaction; furthermore, I doubt that The Dirty Cowboy would provoke a sexual response from most people, child or adult. In some ways, it's reminiscent of that fool who wanted to ban Speak last year because of the "pornographic" discussions of rape. If you find descriptions of rape titillating, you've got way bigger problems than worrying about teenagers reading that book. Likewise, if you think nudity is equal to pornography, you have a lot more on your plate to contend with than a picture book.

I guest-lectured a friend's class once, on the subject of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, which included the inevitable question about "Wasn't Lewis Carroll like a pedophile or something?"  A boy in the class, a junior in college, listened to a few classmates' queries about naked photos, and elected to respond to their disapproving tone: "Nudity isn't the same as sex."
It's rare that I encounter students who are able to so concisely sum up a complex argument (or are even able to make the distinction between nakedness and sex). This one is especially on point, and it's a remark, a phrasing, I come back to often for one reason or another. It's worth repeating, and perhaps informing those parents of: Nudity isn't the same as sex.

If it was, Norman Rockwell could never have gotten away with this, nor could the Saturday Evening Post printed it on its cover.


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